Friday, December 23, 2011

Stephenson's High on the Hog

Although it is situated on a well-traveled highway, Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q in Willow Spring is an off-the-beaten-path place that should be considered a destination restaurant. But wherever you come from to get to it, the journey is well worth making.

A no-frills, elbows-allowed-on-the-table atmosphere at Stephenson’s allows for enjoyable, laid-back dining experience. The modest building, which traces its origins back to 1958 when Paul Stephenson Jr. started his namesake eatery, is firmly ensconced on the North Carolina Barbecue Society Barbecue Trail honor roll.

Cooked over coals for approximately nine hours, the pork remains in the pit for six to eight additional hours so it can absorb its rich, smoky flavor. The meat is then hand-chopped, and by the time it arrives at your table it is among the most flavorful ‘cue you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Also worth mentioning is Stephenson’s outstanding barbecue chicken, which is as tender and delicious as the pork. And words cannot adequately describe how delicious the golden brown hushpuppies taste.

If you’re not super hungry, a ‘cue sandwich with slaw will only set you back $2.95. If you are dining with a group, consider going all in and ordering “family style,” which involves an all-you-can-eat scenario featuring pork ‘cue, barbecue chicken, Brunswick stew, boiled potatoes, creamy slaw and hushpuppies. It’s a veritable feast, to say the least.

Additional side items include collard greens, spiced apples, French fries and other daily selections. If there’s any room left for dessert, be sure to try the scratch-made banana pudding.

As expected at such a fine country establishment, the servers at Stephenson’s are friendly and accommodating. An erstwhile cash-only place, the restaurant now gladly accepts credit cards.

Stephenson's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dame’s Masters the Sweet & Savory

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in downtown Durham has been on the Lunchboy “must-visit” short list for several months, so it was exciting to finally go there and get my fill of one of the most righteous combinations in soul food history.

Let me say up front that Dame’s is in no way, shape or fashion Waffle House meets KFC. In fact, if anything, Dame’s possesses an ultra-cool café vibe. Consider the striking, dark- wood flooring, sleek tables and chairs and—most impressively—the knowledgeable and highly efficient servers.

On the day I visited along with my friend Jay, our exceptional server, Lamont, patiently gave us the lowdown regarding the 10 menu selections and daily specials (shrimp and grits and chicken Caesar salad, as I recall). Decisions, decisions. Would it be "A Quilted Buttercup" (fried chicken cutlet with sweet potato waffles “shmeared” with maple and candied pecans) or "Light Brown Leghorns" (a trio of fried drumsticks paired with a waffle “shmeared” with chocolate hazelnut and warm caramel-cashew sauce)? Shmears, by the way, are made with sweet crème butter.

Meals are served with one side such as scratch-made mac & cheese, collard greens or fresh fruit. It’s also worth mentioning that the coffee is fantastic, but it seems a bit odd to find it located at a self-serve station near the back of the dining room.

The lightly battered chicken is as tender and moist as you’ll find anywhere, while the fluffy, not-too-thick waffles are finessed with precision. Prices range from $9.25 to $12.25 per meal. Don’t’ worry: portions are copious.

Bottom line: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles masters the art of balancing the sweet & savory and easily earns the coveted “Lunchboy Recommends” designation. You owe it to yourself to discover downtown Durham’s newest landmark. 

Dame's Chicken & Waffles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ahoy Skipper's

Let’s get one thing straight right away: Skipper’s knows fresh seafood. In fact, if there’s one place in the Triangle that’s “money” every single time, it’s this award-winning counter-service eatery in Apex.

Whether you choose the remarkable fried cod or flounder sandwich or scrumptious large shrimp platter, you’ll get plenty of food that’s as fresh as you’ll find anywhere around here. Oh yeah, it’s also cooked to order as soon as you place it.

Like fish tacos? Then you can’t go wrong with two flour tortillas stuffed with tempura-battered cod, house-made cabbage cilantro salad and pico de gallo, plus a tangy white sauce that are worth the price of admission (the fish taco plate comes with Mexican rice and a drink for just $6.99).

It’s also worth mentioning here that you’d be hard-pressed to find better hushpuppies than Skipper’s serves, so be sure not to miss out on these pieces of fried golden goodness that will melt in your mouth.

Service at Skipper’s is friendly and accommodating. These guys take their food seriously, even if the décor is super-casual and the cutlery is plastic.

One more tip: Try the lobster bisque, which is the best I’ve ever tasted. Just one more reason to sail on over to Skipper's.

Skipper's Fish Fry & Market on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Neomonde Shines

Mediterranean eatery Neomonde is renowned for its fresh breads and pastries, which are baked fresh daily. It also features an extensive market filled with superb imported foods and spices. 

Christopher Saleh, whose family started the business in 1977, manages the Morrisville location and speaks of Neomonde with infectious enthusiasm.  He was born and raised in Raleigh, but his family hails from north Lebanon. 

Among the Middle Eastern delicacies featured at the café are items like the beef & lamb Shawarma sandwich and the Neomonde platter with tabouli, hummus, baba ghanouj and stuffed grape leaves.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin

Another popular offering, the foul (pronounced FOOL) mudammas soup, comprises a lemon garlic tahini broth with flava and garbanzo beans, green peppers, cilantro, tomato, black pepper, cumin and salt. The soup is available by cup ($2.39), bowl ($2.99) or even by the pound for $4.99.

Neomonde is open daily for lunch and dinner. Free WiFi Internet access is available.

Neomonde Bakery & Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cooley's Moves on Up

Several months ago, Cooley’s Restaurant & Pub, a mainstay in downtown Fuquay-Varina since 1998, pulled up stakes and moved closer to the center of town. Proprietors David and Paula Pittman took a big risk in relocating, but by all accounts business is booming and it’s my understanding that the couple has never looked back.

You’ve gotta love an entrepruneural success story, especially in this economy.

Cooley’s serves quality American cuisine like burgers, sandwiches, steak and seafood. When it comes to starters, you can’t go wrong with house-made chipsters or the sherry-ladden she-crab soup, which is as good as anything you’d find in Baltimore or Charleston.

The creamy chicken salad is delicious, as is the Paula’s Special sandwich with smoked turkey, bacon, and Swiss cheese on grilled sourdough bread. Standout entrees include the delectable Kentucky bourbon ribeye and the center-cut grilled pork chops.

Weekend brunch is also first-rate. For my money and appetite, the Cooley’s Platter (just $5.99) is the only way to go. It features two eggs with your choice of four pieces of bacon or two patties of sausage. Then there’s hash browns or grits and choice of toast, English muffin or biscuit.

Servers at Cooley’s are friendly and eager to please, and décor tends toward upscale casual. Be sure to save room for dessert, such as chocolate chip pecan pie or award-winning lemon pound cake.

Cooley's on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Common Grounds Beckons

Located inside the historic Promenade building in downtown Apex, Common Grounds is a warm, cozy coffeehouse with an inviting milieu.

Customers enjoy the casual atmosphere where they can relax, use the free wireless Internet and enjoy a quality cup of joe.  Exposed brick walls, wooden flooring and pendant lights give Common Grounds an unfussy, intimate feel. A large round table with comfortable chairs beckons patrons to stay awhile.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Along with the requisite lattes, mochas and French press coffees, Common Grounds also serves smoothies, frappes, baked goods and other provisions. Raleigh-based roaster 8th Sin Coffee supplies the beans, while artisan baker Custom Confections of Cary provides delectable cheesecakes.

During the holiday season, the coffeehouse features specialty coffee drinks like pumpkin and gingerbread. It also carries and sells the Monin line of syrups and sauces.

Future plans involve adding a bar and serving soups, salads and deli-style sandwiches. Open daily, Common Grounds has later hours than most independent coffeehouses in the area; it’s open until 10 on Friday and Saturday nights.

Common Grounds Dessert and Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Iconic Irregardless

An iconic and eclectic culinary fixture since 1975, Irregardless Café doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to providing excellent service, cuisine and live music.

The chefs finesse everything from grown-on-site herbs and local vegetables to hormone-free beef and fresh fish. Special emphasis is placed on offering gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu selections. Founder and proprietor Arthur Gordon also knows other patrons enjoy chicken and beef as well.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

The absolute must-try menu item is venerable staple Morgan Street Chicken. The dish comprises a tender breast filet marinated in a too-good-to-be-legal lemon tahini dressing and then coated with crushed roasted cashews and cracker crumbs. Salivating yet?

Although I’ve yet to experience the weekend brunch, tempting selections like frittatas, crepes and omelets are worthy of exploration.

Except Mondays, when the café is closed, talented local musicians perform nightly and during brunch on Sundays. Genres range from jazz and folk to bluegrass and classical guitar, and the dance floor fills up each Saturday evening.

Irregardless Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CupCakeBite Delights

Since it opened nearly a year ago, people in and around Fuquay-Varina have been getting their fill of sweet treats at CupCakeBite, the town’s first cupcake shop.Located in the picturesque Varina Station, CupCakeBite represents the fulfillment of a dream for local proprietor Gina Pettaris, a New York native and former graphic designer who had been baking cupcakes out of her home for the past several years.

The shop features distinctive varieties of cupcakes baked fresh daily and sold for $2.50 each. Additional items include cake pops, cookies, espresso-based coffees and European hot chocolate. Custom cakes and cupcakes also are available.

No doubt what sets CupCakeBite apart from similar cupcake shops is that Pettaris makes her products with all-natural ingredients and no preservatives. She's passionate about using quality ingredients like dairy products without growth hormones and no artificial food coloring.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

During the holiday season, CupCakeBite will feature a gingerbread spice cupcake (pictured above), which according to Pettaris is a cupcake version of the traditional gingerbread cookie. It is covered with cream cheese frosting and sanding sugar, and on top there's a fondant disc embossed with a snowflake.

Open five days a week, CupCakeBite is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

CupCakeBite on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mawa's Serves Up Authentic African Fare

How fitting that the one of the Triangle’s few African restaurants offers a menu as expansive as the continent it represents. At Mawa’s (My Authentic West African) Taste of Africa in Morrisville, various dishes from Morocco, Kenya, Cameroon, Mozambique and elsewhere are featured. What’s more, chef/owner Mame (pronounced “mom”) Hughes hails from Senegal, so it’s no surprise to find Senegalese cuisine on the menu as well.

Hughes came to the United States more than 20 years ago. At first, she began bottling ethnic sauces and refreshing juice drinks, many of which she now serves in the restaurant. While she still maintains ties to Mawa’s Ethnic African Food Market in Raleigh, her passion for cooking ultimately led her to open the 40-seat full-service eatery.

As somewhat expected, the restaurant’s inviting dining area showcases an African safari motif. One full wall is awash with a mural depicting natural plains and a smattering of indigenous animals. Situated near the front window, a cozy, thatched-style area contains two low-slung tables and floor mats so diners can sit and enjoy their meals in the traditional African sense—sans utensils, of course.

From day one, Hughes has constantly strived to provide a warm, hospitable dining experience, and her endearing charm makes diners feel welcomed and at ease. She often comes out of the kitchen and talks with customers. 

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

There’s certainly much to like at Mawa’s, beginning with the house specialty fataya beef patties, which originate from Gambia. Essentially a meat pie, seasoned ground beef and onions are stuffed in a flaky crust.

An ample variety of “snacks and starters” will pique your interest, including pastelles (seasoned tuna in deep-fried flaky crust) and Ghanaian-inspired accaras (black-eyed pea fritters served with a spicy onion sauce).

Lunch entrees are served with a choice of one appetizer (friend plantains, beef patty or shrimp-beef roll), and a popular habanero hot sauce is available upon request. 

Mawa’s also offers a wonderful assortment of unique beverages, including tropical lemonade, ginger and mango. An orange-tinged mint tea and café touba (Senegalese coffee) are offered with free refills.

Dinner entrees span the gamut from lamb, beef and goat to seafood and vegan selections. Fish-centric Poisson a la braise features whole chargrilled tilapia (the menu indicates “yes, head is on”) marinated with fresh herbs. More adventurous diners may enjoy Tanjine, a North African goat dish, or maffe boulettes (stewed fish balls served in a creamy nut sauce with rice and vegetables).

Be sure to save room for dessert, as any of the four or five delectable creations are sure to hit the mark. Far and away the most beloved by regulars is the Mbourou fass, an irresistible fried brioche pudding served warm with banana and caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. 

Reservations at Mawa’s are recommended, particularly on the weekends at dinnertime.

Mawa's Taste of Africa on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Pit Pulls Off Upscale BBQ

At The Pit, an upscale BBQ restaurant in downtown Raleigh, customers come early and often to the renovated 1930s meatpacking warehouse for tasty pork barbecue, ribs and beef brisket are paired with collard greens, mashed potatoes and various seasonal vegetables.

According to proprietor Greg Hatem, the restaurant basically takes the backyard pig pickin' and brings it inside a stylish settting.

Interestingly, all pigs cooked at The Pit are free-range farmed and North Carolina raised. The pork is AWA-certified (Animal Welfare Approved), which means the pigs were free of antibiotics and hormones, and they were all raised in pastures, not cages.The restaurant is also dedicated to sourcing the freshest local products available.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Besides the obvious standouts, among the most memorable menu items include the amazing pumpkin skillet cornbread with maple butter and the crispy, golden southern fried chicken. When it comes to side items, be sure to try the cheesy bacon grits and the creamy mac 'n cheese.

The Pit is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Reservations are strongly encouraged and are available by calling or using

DISCLAIMER: Portion of BBQ in above photo exceeds normal serving size.

The Pit on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crema of the Crop

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Crema Coffee Roaster & Espresso Bar in Cary is the large cast-iron coffee roaster. It’s easy to realize this is no ordinary coffeehouse.

Proprietor and master roaster Kevin Pilotti makes use of a 1986-built Probat brand roaster that resembles a circa 1950s antique. The result is a smooth, robust flavor and uncompromising quality.

Pilotti strives to source superior coffee beans from around the world. His favorite is Ethiopian, which he says is due to the diversity in the cup profiles. It’s clear this guy knows his java. Originally from upstate New York, Pilotti has worked in coffee shops in Manhattan, Charlotte and Durham.

Popular sellers at Crema include lattes, cappuccinos and organic tea. Bagels and baked goods are available, along with tempting varieties of biscotti like English toffee, Mexican mocha and grasshopper mint.

While its location is somewhat seculed on the back side and top level of a strip mall, Crema features comfy seating, free WiFi Internet access and a relaxed, bohemian vibe. Distinctive artifacts on the walls and shelves reflect the exotic areas around the world where coffee is grown. 

Open six days a week, Crema also sells coffee by the pound as well as custom holiday gift baskets.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Crema Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mez Does Modern Mexican Right

Since opening about three years ago, chic eatery Mez Contemporary Mexican has steadily become the cool place to grab lunch or dinner in a casual fine-dining environment.

When it comes to the food, naturally raised, hormone-free beef, made-in-house corn tortillas and fresh guacamole are just a few of the items that help make Mez’s inventive menu stand apart. Standout entrees on the ever-evolving dinner menu include Enchiladas de Pollo (chicken) served with mole poblano, queso fresco, cream sauce, sweet onions, red rice and black beans and Filet Mignon with Mole Negro, an 8-ounce grilled tenderloin filet served over poblano mashed potatoes with black mole, queso fresco and house vegetables.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

If you’re not in the mood for beef or chicken, solid alternatives are Pescado Veracruzana, a grilled seasonal fish fillet in a savory red sauce of green olives, fresh herbs, peppers and capers and Shrimp and Scallops in Tomatillo Cream, which is pan-seared in tomatillo cream sauce and served over linguini with roasted pine nuts, queso fresco and cilantro pesto.

Overall, service at Mez is solid. A knowledgeable waitstaff makes strong recommendations and keeps the dining experience upbeat.

As for décor, warm colors, high ceilings and plenty of live plants provide a relaxed yet modern vibe. Whenever you go, be sure to request a table near the back so you can enjoy the tranquil floor-to-ceiling water fountain.

Mez on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Ward Proctor of Fuquay-Varina, NC. He's the big winner of the $25 gift card to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. His name was chosen in a drawing earlier today.

Thank you to everyone who participated. Stay tuned for more opportunties for prizes in the days to come!


Joyce & Family Dishes Up Righteous Chicken

Searching for bona fide Southern comfort food? Simply visit Joyce & Family Restaurant near downtown Fuquay-Varina.

The delightful and matronly Joyce Staton, a ’Quay native, recently relocated her beloved restaurant from downtown to a larger space just up the road. Candidly, some regular customers (Lunchboy included) miss the former buffet accompanied with complimentary dessert. Joyce now offers food off a menu, but at least you have the option to order “family style” (translation: people bring all you care to eat for a fixed price).

At any given time, you’ll find menu selections like chicken and pastry, yams, homemade mashed potatoes, collard greens, pork ribs, baked macaroni and cheese, cabbage, hush puppies and, of course, the quintessential fried chicken. Put it this way: it’s the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Period. The sweet tea is also mighty good.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Fittingly, charming family photos adorn the restaurant’s walls, and the dining room features a simple mix of booths and tables. A friendly, accommodating waitstaff will ensure your drink gets refilled and extra napkins come your way. Be advised, though: The restaurant does get crowded during Sunday lunch, and the servers and kitchen staff sometimes get overwhelmed.

If you still have room after the meal and don’t mind paying a bit extra, house-made desserts ranging from banana pudding and peach cobbler to strawberry cake and sweet potato pie.

Joyce & Family is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner as well as Sunday from lunch until 5 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Joyce and Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

Iris Worthy of Exploration

Creativity is a hallmark of the North Carolina Museum of Art. It should come as no surprise, then, to find innovative cuisine at Iris, the NCMA’s full-service restaurant that’s as worthy of exploration as any exhibit hall.

Not surprisingly, Iris is aesthetically impressive at first glance. The expansive, modern dining room is suffused with natural light thanks to abundant windows that extend from floor to ceiling. An adjacent wall features a massive natural, woven sculpture created by local artist Patrick Dougherty.

Also distinctive is the restaurant’s contemporary American gastronomy with a Southern fusion approach. Executive Chef Andy Hicks, who honed his culinary chops at various triangle restaurants, including Chapel Hill’s La Residence, draws from regional and global influences while sharing kitchen duties with Executive Pastry Chef Jennifer Hicks, his wife.

Among both chefs’ primary passions is a commitment to sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. Whether it’s beef, seafood, vegetables or dairy products, there’s total dedication to using the freshest provisions available from places like Chapel Hill Creamery and Celebrity Dairy in Siler City.

The assurance of excellence and freshness is evidenced by the first-rate bill of fare. Consider, for instance, the Iris burger, which features all-natural, grass-fed beef from Rare Earth Farms along with Hickory Grove cheese and green peppercorn chive sauce.

While the restaurant’s menu changes with the seasons, popular items like chicken salad and pork barbeque are often carried over.

When it comes to dessert, Jennifer’s masterful creations range from fruit-imbued crumbles and dark chocolate brownies to house-made sorbets and ice cream.

Service at Iris is excellent. Attractive, well-trained staff members handle their duties effectively and efficiently.

Closed Monday, Iris is open for Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday dinner is served from 5:30-10 p.m. (final seating at 8:30 p.m.). Brunch is served on weekends; Sunday hours are 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Reservations are accepted and encouraged.

Current NCMA members are eligible a 10 percent discount off their meal. Museum admission is free.

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee
Iris on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen Serves Up First-Rate Pie

Since opening a sister restaurant around the corner from flagship eatery Maximillians Grill in Cary, chef/restaurateur Michael Schiffer renewed a longtime passion for crafting first-rate gourmet pizzas. Some years ago, his original pizza-centric restaurant in Cary was closed after nearly burning down.

These days Maximillians Pizza Kitchen serves up tantalizing stone-baked and Neapolitan-style pies that rate among the best in the Triangle. Schiffer prefers not to think of his new place as a pizza joint but rather a “chef driven bistro that happens to have its expression through pizza.”

Leave it to the imaginative Schiffer to create a peculiarly named pizza like, ahem, Libido. (Don’t worry, reader. I promise to keep things tasteful.) The pizza contains slightly warmed beef Carpaccio, wild mushroom tapenade, shiitakes, fontina and truffle oil. Trust me: it’s amazing.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Other distinctive concoctions include popular pie Fig & Prosciutto (featuring homemade fig jam, ham, gorgonzola, glazed walnuts and caramelized onions); El Kabong (grilled spice crust steak, smoked jalapeno pesto, poblano peppers, jack cheese, cilantro and mozzarella); and Garlic Littleneck Clam (chopped littleneck clams with fresh garlic and much more).

There are additional tantalizing menu options like gourmet salads, pasta dishes and fresh seafood. Servers are generally eager to please, and the restaurant’s cozy, dimly lit space makes for a great date-night spot.

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen is open for dinner only Monday through Saturday. Reservations are accepted.

Maximillians Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Special Giveaway

Time to see who really reads these posts I write!

Here's a chance for one fortunate "Lunchboy Says..." enthusiast to win a free $25 gift card compliments of the fine folks at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar at Raleigh's Crabtree Valley Mall.

Just send me your top five Triangle-based steakhouses to and you will be entered to win. Be sure to include your name along with your entry. You have until midnight on October 25 to enter. Here's hoping you win the big prize!


Thai Spices Serves Up Authentic Asian Fare

Decisively authentic Asian fare awaits patrons of Thai Spices & Sushi in Cary. While there are many traditional options from which to choose, unique choices like Mieng Khum and Udon Pad Kee Mao are too intriguing to ignore.

For starters, the Mieng Khum appetizer consists of lettuce or spinach served with diced ginger, toasted coconut, red onion, lime, peanuts and a spicy-sweet dipping sauce. Specialty entrée Udon Pad Kee Mao, a family creation of Thailand native and co-owner Chana Sooksang, features udon noodles stir-fried with basil leaves, chiles, vegetables and choice of chicken, beef or shrimp.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Thai Spices’ adroitness for balancing sweet, sour and salty flavors is to be commended, especially considering the plethora of delights offered on the menu. Among the memorable ones are Spicy Basil Beef, Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Shrimp Pad Thai.

As for sushi, the restaurant offers the essential California, eel and tuna rolls, nigiri and sashimi. Popular item Salmon Lover features smoked salmon, asparagus, avocado and cream cheese topped with Ikura and wasabi mayonnaise.

The dining room’s décor is nicely appointed with vivid tropical hues and lush green plants. A large full-wall mural features an ancient Thai landscape, while a mermaid statue in a waterfall greets patrons at the front entrance.

Thai Spices & Sushi is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Thai Spices & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Klara's Offers Bright Spot to Downtown Cary

Prominently ensconced at the entrance of downtown Cary’s Ashworth Village, Klara’s Restaurant provides an inviting milieu to would-be diners and regulars alike. Klara’s represents the Triangle area’s first authentic Czech eating establishment.

Prague-born Klara Novakova moved to the United States more than 10 years ago with dreams of opening a restaurant. Inside her namesake eatery, sunny yellow walls are adorned with picturesque vistas of Prague painted by Klara’s father. The main dining room’s antique pine floor is nicely balanced by a high-pitched ceiling that makes for an open yet not-too-expansive setting. A floor-to-ceiling handcrafted mural of the Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most famous tourist attractions, spans the entire back wall.

When it comes to the food, Klara’s extensive menu contains can’t-go-wrong items from start to finish. Among the nine available appetizers, particularly winning options include the soft-boiled egg à la Prague with cured ham served over a creamy potato salad; pan-fried potato pancakes with sour cream; and the sharable-sized cutting board, which comprises a palatable mixture of various cheeses accompanied with slices of rolled salami and prosciutto ham.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Several main course dishes are worthy of serious consideration. Melt-in-your-mouth house-specialty roasted pork tenderloin comes served with sauerkraut and homemade potato dumplings. Chicken Prague features strips of tender chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms, peppers, onions and zucchini with potato pancakes. Then there’s the succulent roasted half duck with red cabbage and dumplings. The duck is only available on weekends or by request with a full day’s advance notice.

If you are in the mood for red meat, opt for Bohemian roast beef. Want seafood? Whole trout with garlic sauce or the seafood kabob with salmon, tuna and shrimp should hit the spot. Strictly vegetarian? Homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese is a surefire choice. Without question, Klara’s has all the culinary bases covered and then some. 

As for pairing a flavorsome red or white wine with your meal, Klara’s offers a variety of robust selections by the glass or bottle, and most are positioned on nearby wine racks. Also served are Czech beers Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar in addition to well-regarded liquor Becherovka.

Tantalizing made-in-house dessert options abound. Consider the scrumptious crepes with vanilla ice cream, the decadent chocolate lava cake or the house-favorite fresh apple strudel. Be sure to top off the experience with an espresso, cappuccino or café latte.

Closed on Mondays, Klara’s is open six days a week for lunch and dinner. A convenient calendar of events is available on the restaurant’s Web site at  

Klara's Czech Cuisine Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jim's Offers Nirvana on a Bun

On any given day just outside the entrance to a well-known home improvement store in Cary, Jim Rivers serves hot dogs with passion and purpose. Since 1998, loyal customers have come early and often, lining up in front of the nifty portable cart with the red-and-yellow umbrella.

Jim’s Hotdogs features acclaimed Nathan’s and Southern Red products, including top-selling beef along with red, jalapeño and sausage. Abundant condiments — such as mustard, ketchup, chili, onions, slaw, relish, cheese, hot sauces, mayonnaise and sauerkraut — are on hand for no extra charge. Each frankfurter is prepared to order and wrapped in aluminum foil.

The hotdogs are set apart by key ingredients like fresh, steamed buns, quality chili and creamy slaw. Jim sources his hotdog buns daily from Flowers Foods and features an all-beef, no-bean chili and a mayonnaise-based sweet slaw.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Jim’s also offers 14 different ice-cold canned drinks, bottled water, bagged chips and double-decker Moon Pies. Prices range from $2 for one red hot dog and a drink to $4.50 for two beef wieners and a drink. Additional specials offer chips, and posted prices include tax.

The prime location attracts a wide assortment of people, many of whom Jim calls by name. Located at 2000 Walnut Street, Jim’s accepts cash only and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Jim's Ole Time Hotdogs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Get Your 'Cue on at Bullock's

Iconic in Durham’s culinary culture since the 1950s, Bullock’s is a family-owned and -operated restaurant known for its bountiful family-style meals. It also draws in celebrities. The restaurant has fed everyone from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers to Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway. Framed photographs covering the front entrance walls provide ample evidence.

The famous and locals alike come in for Bullock’s legendary vinegar-based Eastern-style barbecue as well as the copious Southern-style vegetables. Whether you want butter or green beans, candied yams or creamed corn, fried okra or coleslaw, it’s all covered.

If you have a group of four our more, family style is the only way to go—but it will set you back $14.25 a person (that includes sweet tea). Heaping full bowls of crispy fried chicken, seasoned green beans and, of course, chopped pork barbecue will fill your table until you cry “uncle.”

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

If you’re looking to save some coin or don’t need as much food, consider a barbecue sandwich or a daily special with three vegetables.

Boiled, grilled and fried seafood is also available on the restaurant’s extensive menu. Be advised: Leave your credit card in your wallet, as Bullock’s only accepts cash and local checks.

Bullock's Bar-B-Cue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Swagger of Little Five Points

A recent business trip to Atlanta landed me at Little Five Points Pizza, a place oozing with a just-order-your-food-and-sit-down machismo yet surprisingly tasty provisions. Let me get this out of the way right out front: This restaurant is not for the faint-hearted.

If you can handle 1980s heavy metal music wafting from overhead, tattooed and body-pierced staffers (with snarls, no less) and graffiti-laden restrooms with no soap to be found, then everything will be fine. If not, go elsewhere. Either way, this place will still be pushing out quality slices of pie for its diverse customer base.

Pizza toppings include Italian sausage, meatballs, fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, peperoni, broccoli and more. It’s best to go with Sicilian style, although a regular slice works nicely if suffused with the abovementioned ingredients.

White pizza scores high marks (add spinach to make it just right). Calzones appear to be a legit alternative to pizza.

When it comes to décor, think dive bar meets big-city pizza joint. A substantial winged neon eyeball is a signature wall icon near the back of the store. Large bags of high-gluten flour are piled on the floor in plain view. Probably not the best place for a first date, but this venue would work just fine for a guy’s night out.


Little Five Points Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Martin's Spices Things Up

Martin's Curry Rice in Morrisville offers an intriguing concept for customized Indian food: Choose your protein, vegetables and sauce, and then wait about five minutes for your meal to be cooked to order. What’s more, fresh local vegetables like bell peppers, squash, kale and other seasonal items are sourced from the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

Chef/owner Martin Sreshta, a native of Bangalore, India, uses proteins like fish, chicken, tofu and eggs infused with sauces such as the mild curry “mellow yellow,” the medium-spiced black-pepper-and-cilantro “masala green” and the “spicy red,” the fieriest of the trio with Kashmiri red chili and tamarind tang.

Martin’s is committed to grinding spices and preparing sauces fresh each day. Not surprisingly, vegetarians and vegans find solace here. All the sauces and most dishes are gluten-free and have no MSG.

The build-your-own-bowl routine works nicely, but half a dozen quick combination meals also entice customers to consider choosing one of Martin’s fine-tuned concoctions. The spiciest of the combos is the Asian Persuasion, a dish containing fish or tofu with spicy red sauce, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.

The counter-service eatery provides free Wi-Fi Internet access, thus encouraging patrons to linger. Local artwork hangs on the walls and is available for purchase. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Martin’s is closed on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Martin's Curry Rice on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ginger Stands Out

In a day when Asian restaurants are as common as frozen yogurt shops, it’s nice to discover one that stands out from the pack. Cary’s Ginger Asian Cuisine is a worthwhile dining destination for quality Chinese and Thai fare at a reasonable price.
If you are a fan of eggrolls, it’s well worth spending an extra 50 cents at lunchtime to enjoy Ginger’s crispy version.  Also satisfying is the tangy hot and sour soup.

When it comes to Chinese entrées, you can’t go wrong with General Tso’s or Kung Pao chicken.  As for Thai selections, while Pad Thai is bargain priced at less than $7, the dish isn’t nearly as noteworthy as, say, the Thai Basil Sauce with shrimp.

One benefit for LifeTime Fitness Members: the restaurant offers a 15 percent discount when you show your gym membership card. Speaking of LifeTime, Ginger even offers a special heart-healthy menu that was developed in collaboration with the nutritionist at the Cary workout facility.

Almost as impressive as the food is Ginger’s tranquil ambiance. Earth toned walls, dark wood accents and unobtrusive, gracious servers enhance the overall dining experience.

The one drawback: parking can be challenging at this busy shopping center (Crescent Commons) that anchors both a Walmart and a Harris Teeter. Once you do find a space, though, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Ginger Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sushi-Thai Cary Offers First-Rate Cuisine

A local mainstay for more than a dozen years, Sushi-ThaiCary offers an extensive selection of Thai and Japanese cuisine that is always fresh, flavorful and abundant. The menu includes the requisite renditions of Thai curries, noodle-centric entrees and classic dishes evidencing harmonious presentations from a finely skilled kitchen. 

Stir-fried house specialty Pad Thai—available with chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, tofu or vegetables—is a main attraction. Equally rewarding is Thai Spicy Basil with sautéed bell peppers, onions, chili sauce, garlic and fresh basil leaves.

If you’re in the mood for sushi, the master chef has everything covered—from nigiri sushi (a slice of fish atop vinegared rice)and special rolls to California Eel and Japanese Bagel. Combinations from the sushi bar are manifold, but standouts include the artful Sashimi Mori (a variety of sliced fresh fish served on ice) and Tekka Don, which comprises fresh yellowfin tuna over a bowl of sushi rice.  

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Despite the strip-mall locale, Sushi-Thai Cary’s inviting décor imparts a casual elegance that helps patrons feel relaxed and welcomed. The end of the eatery’s sizeable sushi bar is fashioned like the bow of a boat. Nice touch.

Owner Sam Tedamrongwanish, who hails from Bangkok, credits a devoted clientele for making the restaurant such a sustained success. Sushi-Thai Cary is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (dinner only on Sunday).

Sushi-Thai Cary on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Danny's Does Slow-Cooking Right

Since the early 1990s, Danny Thompson has made a living on serving everything from chopped pork and beef brisket to chicken and St. Louis-style ribs. It’s all slow-cooked over hickory wood, the aroma of which wafts throughout the airy dining room at Danny's Bar-B-Cue in Cary.

As you might expect, the top seller by far at Danny’s is chopped pork, which is a Boston butt product that cooks about 14 hours overnight. Another customer favorite and Lunchboy-approved selection is the lean, smoked turkey breast.

If pressed to choose a favorite meat at Danny’s, it would have to be the succulent beef brisket. It’s always cooked to perfection with pink around the edges, and it’s tender enough to cut with a fork.

When it comes to sides, can’t-go-wrong selections include baked beans, Brunswick stew, coleslaw and Texas toast. The underrated potato salad is also a solid choice.

The dining room at Danny’s exudes a laid-back, come-as-you-are vibe. Well-trained servers are efficient, friendly and seemingly always smiling when they take your order. You’ll be smiling, too, once you taste the food.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fredin/S&A Cherokee

Danny's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon